Since I was a kid, I have always been obsessed with cars. Not necessarily playing with them, but just looking at them and watching them evolve over time. It might have started with playing a game called Slug Bug where my brother and I would punch each other in the arm whenever we saw a VW Beetle. We would constantly scan the traffic, looking for an excuse to punch one another other (not that we really needed one but it seemed to justify the violence somehow).
I really liked punching my brother. Catching him off guard, punching him when he wasn’t expecting it was one of my favorite things to do. In order to do this, I needed a keen eye to detect and identify the Beetle from great distances or even at night. The Beetle is very distinctive with its large round headlights, domed roof and lack of trunk. As I got older, I stopped looking for excuses to punch my brother and just hit him whenever I wanted to but I never stopped trying to identify cars. I still do it to this day. Everyday on my drive home from work I try to identify cars in my peripheral vision and then look over to see if I am right.
Some cars are easy to identify just because of their iconic shape or design elements like the Porsche 911, Citroën DS, DMC DeLorean and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
But many cars look the same with the generic features like 4 doors, 4 wheels, trunk, hood, color, etc..
There are subtle differences in all cars. As you pay more attention, you begin to recognize their different design elements. Some of these design elements, I have discovered, have names. Here are some general and specific design elements to help in vehicle identification:
The Porsche 911(930) Whale Tail. No other car has it.
Since 2003, BMWs Angel Eyes headlights have been one of their most recognizable features. There are halo rings around each of the headlight lenses.
Jeeps almost always have a vertical seven slot grill.
The Hofmeister Kink is an automobile design named after former BMW director of design, Wilhelm Hofmeister first featured on a 1961 BMW 1500. Rather than having the rear side window extend all the way down, it angles back toward the front of the car.
The Hofmeister Kink is not specific to BMWs, though. Many other car manufacturers have adopted this element in order to make their cars seem more luxurious? Only two examples below show the kink. See the difference?
The Saab Hockey Stick are features seen on all Saab automobiles. The Hockey Stick is a C-pillar curve from the base of the rear passenger window that resembles the shape of an ice hockey stick.
All new Kias now incorporate the Tiger Nose grill.
Hyundai’s new design language is called Fluidic Sculpture, a style that can be seen as as an almost liquid look.
There are many other design elements that can help you identify a car like tail fins or brake light shapes or bumpers, etc. These are just a few that I have recognized or learned about lately.